French Roadtrip: Days 2 and 3 – Brittany

We woke up to rain, not ideal on holiday. After a good breakfast at the hotel in Coutances, we loaded up the car for the drive to Brittany. It was still raining. At least it was a good opportunity to test the new wipers and RainX on the windscreen of the BMW. My main niggle with the car since getting it, is that there is no intermittent setting on the wipers, only an “intelligent auto” setting. Which isn’t that intelligent. Even on the most sensitive setting it waits until you can’t see anything ahead, then wipes the screen. I found an old bottle of RainX in the garage and thought it would be worth a try. I wish I’d thought of that a few years ago, as it worked a treat! Even in the heaviest rain I could leave the wipers set to auto and I could see the road ahead clearly!

Just because I could see where I was going didn’t mean that the journey went smoothly. Our first stop was in St Malo, and we had been sent directions to the car park we were meeting everyone at. However the directions opened in Google Maps, and we find that whilst the directions are usually spot on, they aren’t communicated well. It seems to be a lottery if it tells you the road name/number to turn on to and doesn’t show the number of the exit from roundabouts. To be fair we also didn’t have the audio mix tuned, so I could barely hear the turn by turn instructions, so we took a few wrong turns. I think I’ll stick to using Apple Maps.

When we arrived in St Malo the car park that we were looking for was full, so ended up parking somewhere else anyway. It was still raining. The plan had been to have a walk around the old town, but no-one really felt like it, so we followed my Dad straight to his favourite ice cream shop – Sanchez. He seems to have a favourite ice cream shop in every town we visit! 11:00 isn’t really ideal ice cream time, but it was somewhere we could sit in the dry, and I’d heard Dad saying how good this place was for a few years,. So we had to try it out. I had a giant sundae, with coconut, white chocolate and banana ice creams. It was good, but even I struggled to eat it! The plan had been to get “galette saussice”, for lunch, but I was so full of ice cream I couldn’t face one, so shared with Owen. For those that don’t know, a “galette saucisse” is a buckwheat pancake wrapped around a sausage. It is a typical Breton street food and one of my favourite lunches in France.

From St Malo we drove an hour along the coast to St Brieuc, where fortunately the weather was better. We were staying with my Mum’s cousin Michel and his wife Collette. We saw them in the UK last year, but it is probably 25 years since I last visited them. I didn’t really remember their house, but it is lovely, with the living areas (and a massive garage, with workshop) downstairs, then the guest bedrooms upstairs. The downstairs is very modern, with each of the guest bedrooms decorated with a different theme. Jen, Owen and I were in the historically themed room, with a Louis XIV wardrobe that Michel restored in his workshop. The wardrobe was an ideal place to hide all of the breakable ornaments from Owen – as it is very much the sort of house that a two year old could cause trouble in! Michel is also a petrolhead and has a lovely classic Simca 1000, that was manufactured in the year he was born, so we did some tyre kicking. Owen liked the “old car” too.

We drove into the centre of St Brieuc for a walk around, then down to the harbour, where the Rosengart car factory used to be. We had a little walk around, looking at the boats and one of the cars made in the factory. On the way back, we stopped at the supermarket to pick up some essentials: milk for Owen, chestnut puree for me and wine for Jen! Owen was disappointed that this supermarket didn’t have a tank of live crabs/lobsters, unlike most other French supermarkets. Michel did a BBQ in the evening – french sausages and merguez (a spicy north African sausage), which was one of the foods we particularly wanted to eat on our trip – result! Michel and Collette are great hosts (they used to run bars), and we had a lovely three course meal, with the sausages/merguez as main course. Owen loved watching the sausages being cooked on the open fire, and wolfed his sausage down. Then stole some of my Mum’s merguez too! We had to break our “no iPad after dinner” rule, as toddlers and extended French meals are not an ideal combination – something I remembered from when I was a little boy. He sat happily on my Mum’s knee playing tractor/digger games whilst the grown ups chatted, mostly in French.

After his late night Owen had a short lie in, and when we got downstairs Michel had just arrived with croissants for breakfast from the local bakery – they were still warm! They were the best croissants I have ever eaten, they were so light. Nothing like the croissants you get in the UK. The bread was amazing too, and this is just from their local neighbourhood bakery. After breakfast we went to the beach at Les Rosaires, as we hadn’t really done anything aimed at Owen and digging holes at the beach is his favourite thing to do. We were there about an hour, Owen made sandcastles, paddled in the sea, explored rock pools and generally had the time of his life! However, we had to leave, as we had to fit in a three course lunch before our afternoon excursion!

Collette made us an amazing lunch – cockles, pot roast pork and raspberry panna cotta – I think they also grew/caught everything in the dinner apart from the pork and the milk! As is the way with French meals, it took a wee while, so we were late leaving for the pink granite cliffs at Ploumanach. The drive took just over an hour and Owen slept for most of it. When he woke up we were in a little seaside town that reminded Jen of Lulworth Cove in Dorset, and me of 17 Mile Drive in California. We had to carry him past the ice cream shop and the beach (“sandpit” in Owen’s words), then up the hill to the pink granite outcrops. He absolutely loved it there! Climbing on the rocks and posing for photos. I also like to think he was taking in the amazing views and wondering what geological and ocean forces were at play to form these amazing rock shapes. As the grown ups were taking their time walking back, I sat Owen on my shoulders and carried him to the beach, to do more digging in the sand. I’m not sure where he learned to do it, but he has taken to using my head like a steering wheel if I’m not walking the way he wants to go. Then if I mention it, he tries to steer me off the path or into something. He is such a cheeky little monkey!

Michel led us back the scenic route to St Brieuc, so it was already past Owen’s bed time when we got back. Collette made him egg and toast for dinner – his favourite. He had also asked for baked beans, not understanding that you don’t really get them in France. As we’d had a large lunch I was expecting a light dinner, but it was a 6 course job, including the aperitif and cheese! Aperitif (nibbles), mackerel pate, mussels, cod in white sauce, cheese and fruit salad! We were all stuffed after that. After his dinner, Owen had perked up a bit and didn’t want to go to bed, he sat quietly on his iPad, until the fruit salad came out. He took a liking to the homegrown blackcurrants, stealing them from my Mum’s bowl, then requesting more from the serving bowl! He actually stayed up later than his grandpa!

2018 Goals Update

Like last year, I thought I should do a mid year check in on my goals for 2018, mostly as it reminds me what I should be focussing on for the next six months! I was meant to write this post on the 30th June, as a mid year report, but things have been more than a little busy the last few weeks! Also with the lovely weather we have been having in Coventry, I haven’t spent much time at my computer. It is better be outside doing things, than inside writing about them!

Get my weight down to 85kg

Building on the good progress I made last year, I had a good first quarter, with my weight getting down to the high 85s, however April and May weren’t so good and my weight crept back up to where it was at the start of the year. I’m glad to say that my weight is dropping again – even after eating lots of pintxos in Spain! There’s more work to do, but I think I can get there. Something that has brought this in to focus is watching a GMBN video where the presenter wore weights to try riding at 85kg and he struggled – losing weight will be better for my riding too!

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

I feel like my fitness is actually better than it was last year already, I feel a lot stronger on the bike, even to the point where I can run errands around town without breaking a sweat. I have been following MTB Fitness on social media and getting a lot of inspiration. My Wednesday evening bike ride is usually hill repeats and I am trying to fit in either a yoga or weights session other evenings in the week.

Improve my MTB skills

I went on an MTB skills course earlier in the year, which was a good start. However I need to try and fit in some skills sessions, repeating skills such as manuals and bunny hops. Maybe as a warm up/cool down after a ride. I had been hoping to ride pump tracks more, with Owen on his balance bike, but that hasn’t happened much. In fact the only time we went to the pump track together I ended up injuring myself – which Owen is quick to remind me about!

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

I haven’t actually had the chance to ride the Monkey Trail at Cannock Chase, which includes the Tom, Dick and Harry section, this year. I am up there at the end of the month, but on a group ride with the Orange Riders group from Facebook, so I’m not sure if we will ride that particular trail. I am confident I’ll get to ride it at some point this year, and as I mentioned in my BasqueMTB post, the rock gardens won’t be a problem after that San Miguel trail!

Ride at a new trail centre

The only trail centres I’ve ridden at this year have been Cannock Chase and Llandegla. I did ride at Lady Cannings in Sheffield, but I’m not sure that can be classed as a trail centre. There was a Scotland trip with Ali on the cards, but real life seems to have put a stop to that. I’ll have to park this one until the Autumn, but I’m sure I’ll get out somewhere!

Ride more natural terrain

I can certainly check this goal off! It is probably the reason I haven’t been able to ride at a new trail centre, I have been too busy riding natural terrain! My ride at the Long Mynd with Andy kicked it off, but I don’t think you can get much more natural than the trails I rode with BasqueMTB last month – the trails were steep, rocky and narrow, more walking trails than mountain biking trails! I would still like to ride in the Peak District before the summer is out.

Do some trail maintenance

I’ve done some work on my local trails around Coventry, which I will continue to do. I also did a day with Chase Trails at Cannock Chase, working on their new Snake and Adders section. Now that I’ve done a full day with them, I’ll be making more effort to stop and lend a hand for a while when I am over there riding.

Drive the MR2 more

So far I have driven the MR2 more than last year, mostly by skipping a Sunday bike ride once a month and taking the MR2 out for a blast. I have also been using the MR2 for running errands and the occasional commute. I also managed a track session at Silverstone, however I haven’t managed a full trackday yet, mostly due to time and money – it is harder to justify such an expensive day out having cut my hours at work.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

I have been using my DSLR more, although mostly for pictures of Owen, or family days out. I’m yet to take it out on my bike. I have been taking my old compact camera, a Canon S90, out with me though. I have been meaning to do a comparison of shots from the S90 and my iPhone 7, which is still my most frequently used camera.

Mountain bike photography wise I managed to get a photo of my Orange Four into the GMBN Bike Vault, and as I have been riding more with other people I have a few photos of me riding. I did have a ride where I took my GoPro out with me and set it up to get some photos of myself. The photo at the top of this post is from that session. Maybe I’ll have to try a similar set up with my DSLR – or alternatively get more friends to ride with!

Learn to juggle

This is the goal I’m doing worst at, for the first few months of the year I was practicing most days, but it has dropped off now. Owen loves finding my juggling balls, then hiding them all over the house. Not that it is a valid excuse. Must try harder!

Top Five from 2017

At the start of each year the photography forum on PistonHeads.com encourages users to share their top five photos from the previous year. It is a good opportunity to revisit my photos and share some that may not otherwise have made it into a blog post.

Here are my top five from 2017:

Owen looked so cute in the Woody outfit, it was when he was just starting to crawl and he thought the game was to crawl towards me and grab the camera.

When we were in Croyde I had a free morning where I was able to sneak out for some photography. This panorama was taken from the spot where I proposed to Jen, and is my favourite view anywhere. Click through to Flickr to see a larger version.

This was taken on the front camera of my iPhone, so won’t win any best photograph awards, but I love having a photo capturing all three generations. I know Owen likes it too, as my parents have a print of it in their house and he always points at it, exclaiming “Daddy” and “Papa” – he hasn’t learned to say grandpa yet, so calls my dad Papa.

Taken with my GoPro on holiday in Cyprus, I love the colours on the underwater part.

I just happened to have my camera in my hand when Gill brought Jen’s birthday cake into the room, so was really pleased that I managed to capture this.

I have also posted my top five from 2012 and top five from 2016.

2018

Happy new year! 2018 started quietly for us, at home with Jen’s best friend, whilst Owen slept upstairs. It wasn’t a wild night, I knew that I would need to get up with Owen in the morning. I’ve always been more excited about New Year’s Day than New Year’s Eve. I prefer getting outside and doing something to an expensive and overhyped night out.

Owen let me have a relative lie in – until 7:30, although later would have been nice. Jen had a slightly longer lie in, but had to get up for park run. After porridge for breakfast, we all set off for Kingsbury Waterpark, for Jen to do Parkrun. Owen fell asleep in the car on the way, which wasn’t ideal. When he woke up we had a walk around the waterpark to cheer Jen on at various points on her run – well, I pushed Owen in his pushchair. I had some proud dad moments, as Owen seemed to get excited whenever he saw someone on a bike – pointing at them and shouting “bike” excitedly. We had planned on going to the playground, and I’d brought my camera along to take some cute photographs of Owen but it started raining and it was cold, so we came straight home. Typically, the weather had improved by the time we got home.

I took advantage of the nicer weather to get out on my bike – just a local ride around my urban woodland loop. It was hard work as the trails were particularly muddy and I really felt like I’d ridden more than 16km by the time I got home. A cup of tea and slice of Jen’s Christmas cake was very welcome after I’d removed the covering of mud from both my bike and myself. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with Owen. A great start to 2018!

Last year will be a tough act to follow, but there is still plenty to look forward to: a trip to France with my family, our usual visit to Croyde and a weekend in Chester to visit the zoo. Most excitingly we will be going to San Sebastian in Spain to meet up with our friends Nicki and Mat, who we haven’t seen since our wedding in 2015, as they live in Australia. Jen and I visited San Sebastian on our first holiday together, in 2010, and have been wanting to return ever since. We loved the food and the atmosphere in the town, it just felt like our sort of place. The main beach is in a sheltered bay, but there is also a surfing beach across the river – a great set up for a family holiday. I’m also planning a mountain biking trip to Scotland with my friend Ali. We have done some groundwork for most of these trips, but we will have the excitement of finalising plans over the next few weeks. Aside from all of these trips away I’m heading back to work after the Christmas break with some exciting projects to get my teeth into, although I will still be having Fridays off to hang out with Owen – which is usually the highlight of my week.

At this time last year I set myself some goals for 2017, which gave me focus for the year, so thought I’d do the same for 2018:

Get my weight down to 85kg

I made good progress in 2017, so I want to continue and get to the weight I was when I was 18. I think it is doable, as I’ve been losing weight consistently over the last six months. Jen got me some Withings (now Nokia) connected scales for my birthday in 2016 and they have been a great motivator to losing weight.

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

This is a difficult one to quantify, but when I got back on my bike after six weeks off I could feel that my fitness level had dropped. Hopefully it won’t take too long to get back to where I was. I kept up my training schedule while I was injured, replacing my usual exercises with knee strengthening exercises, so I’ve already cleared the first hurdle.

Improve my MTB skills

2017 was the year of improving my fitness, I want 2018 to be the year of improving my bike skills. I’d like to learn wheelies, manuals, endos, bunnyhops and other trials type skills that can carry over to trail riding. Owen will be getting a balance bike in the summer, so hopefully I’ll be taking him to the pump track/skatepark – a good opportunity for me to improve my riding too! I had intended on getting some skills training three years ago, but felt I didn’t have the fitness to back it up – I do now!

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

The “Harry” rock garden is where I had the crash that injured my knee. I’ve never felt like I can ride that section confidently, and it has now replaced “Cardiac Hill” as my nemesis. Hopefully the skills training mentioned above will help with this.

Ride at a new trail centre

I liked this goal from last year, so added it again. My trip to Scotland with Ali should give allow me to complete this goal.

Ride more natural terrain

In 2017 I enjoyed my rides in the Cotswolds and the North York Moors, and I know there is even better natural terrain in places like the Peak District and the Long Mynd. Both are nearer to Coventry than a lot of trail centres too.

Do some trail maintenance

I’ve enjoyed riding my mountain bike for the last few years, but aside from removing the odd fallen tree I haven’t put much back in for everyone else. Whilst I’m not up to full riding fitness I’m going to join a trail maintenance session at Cannock Chase – the trails there are all maintained by volunteers! I’ll also have a few rides locally where I focus on improving the trails.

Drive the MR2 more

Last year the MR2 took a bit of a backseat, when I had any free time I was out on my bike.  This needs to change in 2018 – even if it does mean riding my bike less. Last year I wanted to do a track day at a new track, but I think just doing a track day will be difficult enough, hopefully I can squeeze one in.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

My iPhone takes decent photos, but whenever I use my DSLR I’m reminded just how much better the picture quality is! Last year it was mostly used for taking pictures of Owen, but I’d like to take it out with me on a bike ride to take some landscape shots.

I would like to get some photos of myself riding – I’ve only got one, from 2015. It would also be nice to get my Orange Four in the GMBN Bike Vault, along with my Vitus (and Owen).

Learn to juggle

I’ve noticed that both Nino Schurter and Jolanda Neff use juggling as part of their training – so if it is good enough for Mountain Bike XC world champions…

There is also the showing off aspect, I’m sure Owen would be very impressed if I could juggle! He bought me some juggling balls for Christmas, so I’ve already made a start on this goal. I’m at the stage of throwing one ball from my right hand to my left hand, and back again – with my eyes closed. It is a lot harder than it sounds! However, I’m sure juggling is the sort of thing where it is important to get the fundamentals right – such as accurate repeatable throws.

Cyprus Trip: Part One – Before the Wedding

We’re in Cyprus for a few days, to celebrate Partho and Marilena getting married. This post will cover the first part of the trip, which we spent in Limassol before the wedding.

Travelling with Owen is far more stressful than just Jen and I. We tried to get everything organised in advance, but then Monarch, the airline we’d booked with ceased trading and we had an extra stressful few days rebooking. We ended up paying double the price and having to fly from Stansted, rather than Birmingham, which made it a really long day travelling.

Owen slept all the way to the airport, but seemed to enjoy taking in all the sights of the airport – the bus from the car park, the security check, the train to the gate etc. He was mostly well behaved on the plane, but four hours is a long time for a little boy to be sat on his Dad’s lap in such an exciting environment. He made friends with a little Norwegian boy sat in front of us, and the girl sat next to me, who just happened to work in a nursery, so was used to inquisitive little boys. I felt sorry for her a bit – she was probably looking forward to a holiday away from small children!

Getting through Larnaca airport was fairly easy, apart from when Owen decided to wee everywhere when we were changing his nappy. I guess it was inevitable after he drank a bottle of water on the plane. Our “Golf or similar” turned out to be a Nissan Pulsar, which was fine, for the 45 minute drive to Limassol. For some reason Apple Maps gave us a route, but didn’t give us turn by turn directions. Then when we switched to Google Maps it insisted on spelling out the road names Greek letter by Greek letter.

Just as we got to the hotel, Partho phoned to suggest a nightcap, so it was a case of checking in, transferring the now fast asleep Owen into his cot, then straight to the bar for me to catch up with Partho and Rich, who was already at the hotel. Jen stayed with Owen, but I did bring some beers back, and it was nice to sit outside on the balcony, listening to the sea lapping against the shore.

We decided to keep Owen on UK time (Cyprus is two hours ahead), so it was 9:00 before we got to the breakfast buffet. It was lovely sitting outside on the terrace for breakfast, but it was already getting warm! After breakfast we explored the pool and beach areas and walked up to the shops to get some supplies for Owen. All the heat and excitement must have tired him out, as he was asleep by the time we got back to the hotel. Jen took the opportunity to go for a swim in the adult only pool, whilst I stayed in the air conditioned room with Owen – working on my best mans speech.

When Owen woke up we drove to the Colours Cafe at the Four Seasons hotel, where Jen and I had shared a huge ice cream sundae on our previous trip to Cyprus in 2011. The cafe had been redone recently and it looked very swanky, however the highlight was the long counter with ice cream, cakes and pastries on display! We had lunch whilst waiting for Partho and Marilena to join us for ice cream. I was surprised to see chicken curry pie on the menu, so I had to order it to share with Owen. I thought it was amazing, but Owen didn’t even want to try it – his loss was my gain. When we eventually got ice cream and cakes, Owen’s appetite had reappeared, and he did a good job helping us to polish off our chocolate sundae. Disappointingly the sundae was only half the size of the one we’d had on our previous visit. I also found out more about what my best man duties would entail, complete with a warning that if I messed up my duties during the ceremony, the wedding would have to be postponed until the next day.

After all the excitement of lunch and ice cream, Owen was ready for a nap by the time we got to the hotel so I used this opportunity to go for a swim in the sea and mess about with my GoPro. The hotel had a pontoon to avoid the rocky foreshore, so I jumped in off the end of that. The water was clear enough to see the bottom and shoals of fish swimming by. I also went for a dip in the pool, which was actually colder than the sea. Having worked up an appetite we went out in search of dinner, ending up at a German bierkeller – it wasn’t hard to find, due to the massive inflatable beer on the roof. We were able to get a table outside and all had a great meal, included Owen, who learned about dipping his food into a pot of sauce. The local stray cats must have clocked Owen, as they were waiting by his highchair, waiting for him to throw his food around. However Owen was eating really well and the cucumber slices were the only offerings for the cats. After dinner Richard and I retired to the outdoor bar for a few beers, the plan had been to give Partho a bit of a send off on his last night of freedom, but he was late getting to us as Marilena had given him some jobs to do…

The other posts from this trip are now live: Partho and Marilena’s Wedding and Relaxing in Protaras.

Parental Leave: Back to work

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Despite the title of this post, I didn’t go back to work on Monday morning. I had booked Monday and Tuesday off work as annual leave, due to Owen’s birthday being on the Tuesday and wanting to wait until after his birthday to return to work. This because the parental leave allocation is 52 weeks, rather than a full year. I was determined to go for a drive in the MR2 on our last day off together, even if it was raining. We drove down to Chipping Norton, with the roof up, to see my Mum and Dad. Owen had a huge lunch, then a long nap, fortunately we’d left his travel cot there from his sleepover last week. He really seems to feel at home at my Mum and Dad’s house, crawling everywhere like he owns the place! I didn’t get the roof down blast in the MR2 I’d hoped for, but we both had a good day out.

Tuesday was Owen’s birthday, I’m not sure he knew exactly what was going on, but did seem to like all the presents – he is a very lucky little boy! Later in the morning we met my Mum and Dad at the Transport Museum. I’m not sure that Owen was as interested in the old cars as I was though. We all had a big lunch at home with Jen’s Mum and sister too, then Owen’s birthday cake. After the cake my family left and more of Jen’s family arrived – with more presents (and cake). It was a busy day, but Owen seemed to enjoy himself, which is the main thing.

Wednesday was also a big day – Owen had his first full day at nursery and I was back to work. Owen had obviously recognised the nursery from his settling in session last week, as he started crying as soon as we walked through the door. Probably realising that we were going to abandon him. It was hard leaving him, especialy as he was so upset, but I had to get to work. Sitting back at my desk felt natural – I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. The only indication that I had been off for two months was a bulging inbox, which I spent most of the day sorting through. When Jen picked Owen up from nursery we were told that he’d been fine most of the day, and had enjoyed playing with the sit in toy car they have there. Hopefully over the next few Wednesdays he will begin to realise that nursery is actually a fun place and not get quite so upset when we drop him off.

I was back at work on Thursday, but it was Jen’s day off to look after Owen. They went swimming, then to buggy workout – which sounded better than being stuck in an office all day! In the new regime Fridays are my day off to look after Owen, so at least I only had two days in the office this week. Our day wasn’t as exciting as Thursday – I think Owen must have picked up a cold at nursery, he had a runny nose and didn’t seem to be his usual cheeky self. So we mostly hung out at home, playing with Owen’s birthday presents. We did have one trip out, to the supermarket where Owen was his usual cute self, gaining even more admirers.

We had a relativly quiet weekend, as none of us were feeling 100% – I guess this is how things will be now that Owen is going to nursery. Jen still felt well enough to do Parkrun, so Owen and I went to the park to cheer her on and have a play in the sandpit. We spent the rest of the morning in town, grabbing lunch at the food festival. Owen had a taste of my chimichanga and Jen’s paneer wrap, seeming to like both. Sunday was another important day in Owen’s childhood – his first trip to a racetrack! We went to the British GT/Formula 3 meeting at Silverstone, as part of the Pistonhead Sunday Service. Owen did have a look at all the cars, but equally enjoyed having breakfast in the paddock cafe and crawling around on the grass banking on the inside of Copse corner. We spent the afternoon back at home in the garden, Jen cracked on with jobs, whilst I played with Owen. Even though we had brought his toys out with us, Owen was most interested in playing with the fresh topsoil I’d put down, mostly trying to eat it. He was filthy when we finished, but he’d had a fun afternoon!

As my parental leave has finished and I’m now back at work, I will bring this series of blogs to an end. I feel like I have gained a lot from spending all of this quality time with Owen. I certainly feel much more in tune with him than in week 1 – when I was impressed that he could go from his belly to sitting up. Now he is trying to climb anything that he can reach and crawls behind me when I move from room to room. Hopefully Owen has benefitted from having his Dad around, I can tell that he has enjoyed it. I did miss Owen the two days I was back in the office, so I am glad that I will be having Fridays off to look after him, which I am sure will be the highlight of my week.

Parental Leave: Week 6

Fmily Holiday SelfieOur week started with a bit of a panic, Jen left for work and the power steering failed on her car. Fortunately I had decided to drive the MR2 this week and had already moved the car seat over, so she was able to take the BMW. As my friend Richard pointed out on Facebook – there always seems to be something wrong with one of our cars! It must have just been dodgy Italian electrics, as the car was fine when I tested it later in the day. Owen and I enjoyed being back out in the MR2, he had been really sleepy during his breakfast, so I bundled him straight into the MR2 to drive to my Mum and Dad’s house. Being in the MR2 perked him up and I had lots of smiles and giggles from the passenger seat, until he eventually drifted off to sleep. We had a lovely time with my Mum and Dad, Owen seems to have learned some new skills too – waving and drinking from his cup without any help!

On Tuesday Owen had some more firsts – I needed to do some more DIY, so Jen’s Mum came to look after Owen. They went for a walk to the park, where Owen enjoyed the playground, incuding trying the slide for the first time, then they came home on the bus – Owen’s first bus trip! When he got back Owen seemed content watching me paint – finding it funny when I was up the ladder waving down at him.

This is sounding a lot like my parental leave is just handing Owen over to grandparents to be looked after, whilst I crack on with something else – which isn’t the case. I guess the routine stuff, like battling with him eat his breakfast, changing nappies and playing peekaboo just seem normal to me now, so tend not to mention them. It isn’t all bad, as Owen does love hanging out with both his Grandma and Nanny. He always has huge smiles for them when they walk in the door and I’m sure he’s on his best behaviour when they are in charge!

Wednesday was a Daddy and Owen day, we mostly hung out at home, our only trip out was to the supermarket, taking the long way home, as it was a nice day and we were in the MR2. I still find it funny how small the MR2 looks, parked next to all the SUVs and people carriers in the parent and child spaces. On Thursday we were out in the MR2 again, to go swimming – this week we even made it on time! Owen did a lot of splashing when we got into the pool, he splashed himself, the other babies and parents, the teacher, but mostly he splashed me. After his initial excitement, he didn’t seem to enjoy the lesson as much as usual. I think that he was tired, as he didn’t have a pre-swim nap – probably why we made it to the lesson on time. He went straight to sleep when we got home, allowing me to get some jobs done, then have an uninterupted lunch with Jen! In the afternoon Jen took Owen to buggy workout, leaving me free to get out on my bike. With all the veranda painting it felt like I hadn’t had a proper ride in ages, so it was good to be out again, even if I had to do some more painting when I got home.

Whilst I was painting Jen took a phonecall that would slightly change our plans for the rest of the week – our holiday rental in Croyde would be ready for us on the Friday, rather than the Saturday. Naturally we jumped at the opportunity to have an extra night in our favourite place. Friday morning was spent packing, whilst waiting for the health visitor to come for Owen’s twelve month development check – of course Owen fell asleep just before she arrived and had to be woken up to be measure and weighed. He apears to be doing fine though, he is above the 75th centile for weight and 90th centile for length, when corrected for being born 6 weeks early. We had a few final errands to run before we could hit the road – Owen even cooperated and fell asleep in the car for the exact amount of time it took me to remove the bike carriers.

We set off at 17:30, half an hour later than planned, mostly due to Owen being fussy about eating his dinner. Jen drove the first stint through the Friday rush hour traffic on the M42 to Glocester services, where we stopped for dinner/milk and a crawl round the play area. I took over for a long second stint all the way to Croyde, by this time the traffic had cleared and we made good progress. The downside to the late arrival was missing the view across Croyde Bay when driving round Down End Point, one of my favourite views anywhere in the world. We could just about tell that the tide was in, but couldn’t see much else. We found our chalet, complete with cot already set up for Owen, so all we had to do was transfer him from his car seat to the cot. It didn’t quite go to plan though, Owen woke up, and was keen to explore his new surroundings. He slept well when he drifted back off to sleep, and had a bit of a lie in.

The fun really started when he’d had his morning milk and realised that he had the full run of the chalet – heated laminate floors and no stairs must be perfect for crawling around, as Owen looked to be enjoying himself immensly. He then found the springy door stoppers, hours of noisy fun for a little boy! Due to getting to Croyde a day early, and our early morning wake up call, Jen decided to do Parkrun in Barnstaple. It was a lovely morning, so Owen and I expolored the park whilst Jen ran. The plan had been to stop off for breakfast in Braunton on the way home, but Owen fell asleep in the car on the way, so we carried on back to Croyde and went to Blue Groove instead. This was no hardship as it is one of our favourite places to eat anywhere  in the world. We spent the afternoon walking around Croyde and seeing what had changed since our last visit, then chilling at the chalet during nap time. We visited Squires fish and chip shop in Braunton, another of our favourite haunts, for dinner and Owen had his first taste of fish and chips. He didn’t quite get the concept, as he only seemed to want the chips.

Sunday started with another lie in (we now class 7:00 as a lie in), but as this was forecast to be the last sunny day of our trip we wanted to make the most of it. We started off with a walk to the National Trust tea room at Sandleigh, which after extensive testing Jen and I have declared to do the best cream tea Devon. Pete and Gill (Owen’s Nanny and Granddad) joined us for the walk, and we had a lovely morning. After Owen’s lunch we took him down to the beach – this was his first chance to play in the sand, as last time he was only a few months old! Rather than taking the pushchair to the beach we used the baby carrier, which hadn’t been used since last summer, when Owen was a lot smaller. He went on my back and seemed to enjoy the walk down to the beach. We set up a tent to shelter us all from the wind and sun. Owen was happy to stay in the tent to start with, so I took a stroll to the sea, and by the time I got back (it was long way due to it being low tide) he had ventured out and was fearlessly crawling over the sand. I built some sandcastles, but Owen was destroying them quicker than I could build them, maybe my Dad is correct in thinking that Owen wants to become a demolition engineer…

Owen seemed to enjoy the beach and did really well with not eating sand until just as we were packed up and about to leave, when he somehow ended up with a big face full of sand and cried most of the walk back – I’ve never had such a noisy rucksack! After desanding ourselves we all went for Sunday lunch at the Manor House Inn, followed by an ice cream from the little ice cream shop, introducing Owen to more of our Croyde traditions. After Owen had gone to sleep I went back out with my camera, planning to take a photo of the sunset, however it wasn’t to be, the sun dipped below the horizon, but there wasn’t even the faintest glow of orange in the sky. It was still good to get out with my camera, as I haven’t had much of a chance to do landscape photography recently.

We have got more of the same planned for next week, although the weather forecast doesn’t look as nice. Whatever we get up to it is nice to spend a decent amount of time together as a family and hopefully Owen will benefit from it.

Parental Leave: Week 4

Owen and LewisThe week started off quietly with a visit from my Mum and Dad. We all went in to the city centre to IKEA and the market – to get Lorne sausage. With my parents looking after Owen, I was able to get some jobs done, including a sub-15 minute bottom bracket service on my bike. Followed by an amazing dinner – Lorne sausage with sweet potato macaroni cheese, one of my favourites! We had another vistor on Tuesday, my old school friend Stevo. We went to Hickory’s Smokehouse for a meaty lunch and a good catch up.

After eating well the previous few days, I needed to get out on my bike on Wednesday. So, I put the bike on top of the BMW and drove to my parents’ house in the Cotswolds. After a tasty lunch of cheese scones, I went for a 36Km bike ride to the east of Chipping Norton. It was hard going, with probably 30 of the 36Km being off road, but the scenery was much nicer than cycling around Coventry! Owen enjoyed his time with grandma and grandpa, so we both returned home tired and happy.

After a two week break, Thursday swimming was back. This is usually Owen’s favourite part of the week, but he seemed to be doing everything he could to delay us getting out the house – refusing to eat his breakfast, crying, standing up in his cot then eventually falling asleep, just as he needed to get changed to get to the pool. In the end I had to wake him up and take him out in his pyjamas and got him changed for swimming at the pool. We were late for the lesson, but as soon as he was in the pool Owen was back to his happy self! After our eventful morning, I gave Owen an early lunch, which he wolfed down, because I was off to work in the afternoon for a handover meeting, as one of my colleagues is leaving. It was strange being back in the office – in some ways it felt like I’d never been away, other than the complete lack of knowledge of what had been happening. It was also a lot easier than wrangling a wriggly Owen, but I did miss him. He also seemed to have missed me, as he was all smiles when I got back home.

After a busy week, Friday was a quieter day and we had a walk down to the butchers in the morning. Later, Owen woke up screaming from his afternoon nap. I was about to start cleaning the bathroom, so was glad to have an excuse to avoid it. I gave Owen a cuddle, which cheered him up, and we spent the next hour snuggled up. Six months ago this would have been normal, but it is rare these days, as Owen would much rather be crawling round the house looking for things to climb or eat, or trying to pull my ears off/gouge my eyes out if I’m holding him.

Jen was in London on Saturday, so Owen and I had another quiet day, with a trip out to Leamington to meet my parents. Sunday started off well, with another trip to Hickory’s, for breakfast. I left early and cycled to meet Jen and Owen there, so I felt like I’d earned my breakfast. In the afternoon we did some work in the garden, in preparation for the next phase of the 119 Project, then went to Jen’s Mum and Dad’s for afternoon tea and cake.

I’m now half way through my eight weeks at home and it now feels like it is going very quickly. Going back to work, even for half a day, made me realise just how busy the days are with Owen. Very rewarding though.